Ndewura Jakpa, an African king who founded a dynasty in Gonja, in what is now northern Ghana, in the early 17th century. Originally a Mande invader, Jakpa established a loosely knit federation of states that extended over the entire northern part of present-day Ghana and parts of Togo and Benin. Jakpa’s invasion of Ghana was probably the result of a dispute within an Islamic force (of which he himself was part) then attempting to convert nations in what are now Mali and Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta).
The name "Jakpa" is itself a title, and there is some doubt whether the events attributed to this ruler are those of Sumalia Ndewura (the first Jakpa) alone or are the combined record of a series of rulers assuming this title.
History has it that the history of the Gonja is more than half forgotten due to the fact that the primary way of preserving it is through oral traditions which is liable to corruption and distortion with time. Intensive research on the Gonjaland also hints of available Arabic manuscripts by the major Islamic clerics and Imams, who have kept and preserved it for generations.
Gonjaland, by far is the largest in Ghana with an area of over 14,000 square miles with an average population density of 10 to the square mile. The main occupation of the people is subsistence agriculture, with millet as the stable crop.
It was the geographical position of Gonjaland lying across the trade routes, which led the Ashantis north-westward to the Manade lands of the Upper Niger and north-eastward across Borgu to Hausaland, which made Gonjaland a key region in economic life of the Western Sudan and which made the rise of effective state organisations there not only possible but necessary.
Ndewura Jakpa came from the west of Mande. He appears as an invader at the head of a band of horsemen which, if not numerically very large was irresistible by virtue of its superior weapons and discipline, and by virtue also of the prayers of Jakpa’s mallam known as, Fatigi Moruke. He found as it is said no effective organised state to resist him and had little difficulty conquering the whole area now occupied by the Gonja chiefdoms. After inflicting defeats on Dagombas to the east and the Ashantis to the south, he “sat down” at Nyanga and divided the conquered lands among his sons and brothers, to one or other of whom all present divisional chiefs of Gonja claim to trace their descent. Overwhelmingly the voice of popular tradition ascribes the whole work to Jakpa. The name of no founding heroes are linked with his on any sort of equality.
Agyanyito, the language now spoken by the Gonjas, although it certainly contains some Mande words, is not a Mande language. As it is well known, it is one of the Guang languages, probably related to Akan, which occur again on Afram plains, west of the Volta, along the Akwapim ridge and again on the coast near Winneba. They are generally held by linguist to be among the most ancient languages in Ghana, and it seems certain that there was an important Guang-speaking element among the earliest inhabitants of Gonjaland of whom we can, at present, have any knowledge and who already lived there at a time along before the days of Jakpa.
Researchers have identified a tiny Guang-speaking tribe called the Beri, living on the borders of the Ivory Coast between Bona and Bundugu who appears to be autochthonous, and several of the Nyamase (meaning - ‘the refusers’) tribes of the central and western Gonja speak or used to speak Guang languages. One of these is Choruba, now spoken at Senyon and Seripe, both villages about ten miles from Bole. Another is Danputu, spoken in three or four villages in the neighbourhood of Buipe by people who claim to be aboriginals. Yet another, which ought perhaps to be included, is the now almost extinct Mpre of the Butie area which seems once to have been widely spoken in the divisions of Buipe, Kawasawgu and Tuluwe. In Kpembe division, in the east of Gonjaland, the bulk of the people are Guang-speaking Nawuri and Nchumeru, who claim to have come in with Jakpa and are not usually regarded as Nyamase.
Jakpa’s prowess as a warrior is generally admitted in traditional accounts that in most places he met virtually no opposition. Except perhaps at Bole, it is clear that there was no serious fighting in Gonja west of the Black Volta. The invaders are usually said to have crossed the Black Volta in the neighbourhood of Sakpa. There they quickly entered into an alliance with the Vagala of that area who were then on bad terms with their “Dagomba” and Anga neighbours, and secured in particular the valuable support of the priest of the important fetish of Senyon. It was apparent at this stage, Jakpa established his eldest son called Burelanyon as Yagbumwura at Nyanga, east of Bole. He further advanced straight through Central Gonja in the middle of Damango and a big “Dagomba” settlement in that neighbourhood was evacuated without any fighting. Jakpa then turned south to receive the submission of Kinimpasora, the chief of Buipe.
Apparently Jakpa’s next advance was into Brong territories. He is sometimes said to have penetrated Prang. It is, in any event, certain that the early Gonjas won a decisive victory over a neighbouring Brong chiefdom, presumably a vassal state of Bono-Mansu, since Tranakides - a researcher, has been shown two ceremonial stools which are still preserved in Gonja as trophies of this victory. From the traditions of Bono, published by Meyerowitz, it appears that on two distinct occasions that state was threatened by grave disaster through Gonja incursions from across the White Volta. The first of these misfortunes, which apparently took place almost immediately upon the arrival of the Gonjas in the Buipe area, was marked by the suicide of the Bonohene Berempon Katakyira in 1595 and the second by that of the Bonohene Afena Diamono in 1639.
After his first successful raid into Brong territories, Jakpa seems to have turned his advance northward, crossing the Volta in the neighbourhood of Kafaba and driving the Namumba out of the Salaga area. It was only after having achieved this series of victories and after having so to say, outflanked the Dagomba position in Eastern Gonja that he made a frontal attack upon them in that region. There was serious resistance in the neighbourhood of the modern Kawasawgu, when Jakpa is remembered to have personally distinguished himself, but the Gonjas were, of course victorious and went on to wrest Daboya too from the power of the Dagomba. It was in this stage of the campaign that occurred the battle in which Na Dariziogo of Dagomba was killed. The Dagomba felt their kingdom was threatened and transferred it eastward into what had hitherto been Konkomba territory, but they were not decisively conquered. For at least a generation, probably longer, the Gonjas were constantly threatened with Dagomba attempts to reconquer their lost lands around Daboya.
Oral accounts of Jakpa’s wars almost invariably end with a great disaster. The details vary, but it is agreed that there was an invasion of Brong territory which met with total defeat and that Jakpa himself was mortally wounded at, or near, Brumasi, sout-west of Yeji.
It has already been suggested that the title of Jakpa may very probably have come to cover the activities of a series of individuals. Such confusion of mere names goes some way to explain the most serious apparent discrepancies between the account here offered of Jakpa’s career, and in particular the circumstances of his death. There are evidence of “Lanta who was a Jakpa” was considered not the first of his title but the third or fourth. He was not one of the invaders but the successor who decisively consolidated their work. “When he was chief he became very powerful, among all those who had gone before him not one could equal him as a ruler. Everything concerning his kingdom he took into his own hands; he divided the Gonjaland and gave it to his brothers…. When he became chief there was no one who dared dispute with him, and the power has remained in the hands of his brothers right down to the present day. Jakpa Lanta is represented as ruling in relative peace, a builder rather than a destroyer of states, and is said to have died naturally in extreme old age after a reign of more than forty years (1634 – 1676).”
His immediate predeccessors, with the approximate length of their reigns are named as
1. Naba’a (1566 – 1596)
2. Sa’ara also called “the Mawura” (1596 – 1614)
3. Amoah Imoru Saidu (1614 – 1634)
NB: The above list refers to the predecessors of Jakpa Lanta.
Jakpa died and was buried in Buipe this lends it the character of a sacred town and in the eyes of most living Gonjas the unique status of Buipewura derives from his office as guardian of Jakpa’s tomb.
Jones. D. H. JAKPA AND THE FOUNDATION OF THE GONJALAND. Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana. Vol 6. Accra. 1962
Goody, J. R, “A Note on the Penetration of Islam into the West of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast,” Transactions of the Gold Coast ad Togoland History Society, vol, I, part II, Achimota, 1953.
Goody, J. R, The Ethnography of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, West of the White Volta, London, Colonial Office, 1954.
Palmer, H. R., ed, “Kano Chronicle,” Sudannes Memoirs, vol. III, Lagos, 1928.
Tamakloe, E, F., A Brief History of the Dagomba People, Accra, 1931.
Tranakides, G., “observations on the History of Some Gold Coast peoples,” Transactions of the Gold Coast and Togoland historical Society, vol. I, part II, Achimota.
Ward, W. E. F., History of Ghana. Revised edition, London, 1959.